Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness” as Want to Read:
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  16,845 ratings  ·  1,448 reviews
Elyn Saks is a success by any measure: she's an endowed professor at the prestigious University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She has managed to achieve this in spite of being diagnosed as schizophrenic and given a "grave" prognosis—and suffering the effects of her illness throughout her life.

Saks was only eight, and living an otherwise idyllic childhood in s
Hardcover, 340 pages
Published August 14th 2007 by Hachette Books
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Center Cannot Hold, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Center Cannot Hold

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.27  · 
Rating details
 ·  16,845 ratings  ·  1,448 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness
Jul 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
It's a little sad and frustrating when people read this and say things like "whenever she's off her meds, she has an episode, she should just stay on them!".

The most difficult thing in treating mentally ill people is getting them to take and stay on their meds for reasons she details in her book. First, there are usually pretty severe side effects such as permanent nerve damage that causes you to twitch and spasm constantly, have trouble thinking clearly, have no energy and put on a lot of weigh
I have this fascination for mental health memoirs. I’ve read about a dozen or so, among them: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is brilliant, one of the essential books of my life; Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreiber; Awakenings by Oliver Sacks, this more of a multi-persona biography than a memoir; William Styron’s Darkness Visible; Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind; Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon; Frigyes Karinthy’s A Journey Round My Skull; and The Co ...more
Always Pouting
This is a memoir by a lawyer who has severe schizophrenia and talks about struggling to deal with it while getting through school and then using her unique insight into it to help others with mental illness. If anyone likes TED talks I know the author has one where she discusses it also. I enjoyed the TED talk more than the actual memoir mostly because TED talks force you to cut down to the most important events or ideas but the memoir seemed to drag in a lot of places. It's interesting but at t ...more
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mental-health
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks

This is a remarkable memoir by Elyn R. Saks. An inside peek of the experiences she had while going through mental illness. Elyn R. Saks has recounted many years of her life, in detail. Instead of falling apart and giving in, Elyn fought back and this helped her to continue to live a fulfilling life.

"The HUMAN BRAIN comprises about 2 percent of a person's total body weight, but it consumes upward of 20 percent of that body's oxyg
Hmmm, this was....interesting. Rather poorly written: emotionally flat all through, often repetitive and very 'cerebral' - the outer sensuous world almost entirely lacking. The middle part, where she describes a full-scale breakdown resulting in restraints and involuntary medication, is harrowing, and should be required reading for medical students, legal students, and indeed psychiatric caregivers. However, her insistence on always having been the best at everything, ever ("I was valedictorian. ...more
jv poore
I recently visited a few high school English classes to introduce Nic Sheff's first novel, Schizo.

In Schizo, the main character, a 16-year old boy, tries to learn how to live with Schizophrenia. After I explained that I felt that it was very important for us to work together to reduce the stigmas often associated with mental health disorders, one of the students enthusiastically recommended Ms. Saks' book.

I have never been disappointed with a book that a student recommends.
Aug 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book is written by a friend/mentor of mine at USC. It was extremely bizarre to read something so intimate by & about someone I know, so my experience of reading it will be different from the experience of others. That said, I think it's quite powerful. What Elyn is able to pull off is describing, from her currently "sane" place, what it feels like to be severely schizophrenic. Her bridge-building into that experience is rare and worthwhile, and can move a reader's empathy for the mentally i ...more
Wow. This was wonderful and terrifying. But mainly it was incredibly eye-opening.
 Sarah Lumos
“There’s days I feel guilty for feeling so good”

Damn, this book left me speechless.

If you or someone you know copes with a mental illness, then read this book. Heck, even if mental illness has played no role in your life, read this book. To me, Elyn R. Saks embodies the epitome of resilience - the ability to bounce back and keep going when things get difficult. She is a TED speaker, ivy league graduate, renowned academic at the University of Southern California Gould Law School, plus a tota
Jul 19, 2008 rated it liked it
The Center Cannot Hold offers a rare peek into the raging mind of a schizophrenic. While the author is anything but a case study (she is brilliant and accomplished even by mentally intact standards, whereas schizophrenia is usually accompanied by low IQ and functional impairment) her uncommon mental clarity enables her to shed light on an otherwise inscrutable disorder.

Of the several memoirs of mental illness I've read, this book offers the most convincing dialogue of psychotic and depressed cha
howl of minerva
Elyn Saks is an unusual figure to say the least. An academic superstar: Vanderbilt valedictorian, Marshall scholar to Oxford for graduate study in philosophy (Aristotle's metaphysics in the Greek no less), Yale Law School, tenured faculty at U South California, MacArthur "Genius" Fellow. And since her late teens, battling with schizophrenia: disabling and terrifying bouts of delusions and hallucinations.

High-functioning people with mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder are all arou
Mar 26, 2013 rated it liked it
I'm going to totally and consciously cop out on this review. Yes, the book was maddening to read at times given the "one step forward, five steps back" nature of her journey. And I beat myself up throughout most of it, as my impatience with Saks's actions grew. She takes the meds. She feels better on the meds. She insists on abandoning the meds. She goes "floridly psychotic," gets hospitalized and has a horrific time of it. Multiply that sequence by 20-25 and you get the first 300 pages of the b ...more
Feb 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars!

This is an eye-opening memoir by a fascinating woman. Elyn R. Saks is a highly functioning intelligent woman with multiple higher degrees from places like Oxford and Yale and she just happens to have Schizophrenia. In this memoir she does battle with her demons and for the most part she wins. I found this to be extremely inspiring.

It is also a look into the way we treat mental health especially in the US. It's pretty bad.
Feb 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
I will be thinking about Elyn and her book for a long time. For the last nine years, I've worked on an inpatient psychiatric unit, first as a nurse intern, and eventually as a nurse.

I dearly love my patients with all of my heart, and believe there is no group that is more discriminated against in most of the world. At least, truly, in America, there is little to no discrimination left culturally- EXCEPT for mental illness. Fight me on this. But no one can unless they've seen it first hand, whic
Apparently on a roll with reading memoirs related to my diagnosis.

Can't believe my psychiatrist recommended I read this. This book left me utterly cold.

Her experience in the psych ward was moving (I cried) but her pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality is frustrating, as is the fact that her self-worth revolves around her being the best, the smartest, etc., etc. When the author's psychoanalyst describes her as "a republican" when it comes to the mentally ill they are not kidding. Her lac
Apr 21, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Elyn Saks takes us intimately into her lengthy experience of being diagnosed with schizophrenia in this eye-opening and compelling memoir of, as she describes it, 'madness.'

This was suggested to me by my friend Nathan (@schizophrenicreads on Tiktok), as an example of a book with good representation of schizophrenia. Obviously every diagnosis of mental illness is varied and complex, but Saks does an excellent job of sharing her specific experience discovering she has mental illness, exploring it
Nov 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Elyn Saks suffers from schizophrenia and says she wrote this book to demonstrate that people with this illness can lead rich and successful lives. She herself teaches at a top law school, has had psychoanalytic training, has written a number of scholarly articles and is married to a kind and understanding man. As a psychiatrist, I found her infuriating, and I imagine her doctors over the years did, too. She takes forever to realize that she absolutely must take antipsychotic medication and, desp ...more
Sep 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
Saks presents an articulate and honest portrayal of her life with schizophrenia, from its early days to the present. She doesn't deny the severity of her symptoms, while also acknowledging that the life she's built for herself is atypical -- she is a married, tenured law professor at USC with degrees from Vanderbilt, Oxford, and Yale. The most devastating part for me was Saks' account of her days in the Yale psychiatric centers, acting out and recognizing that the staff didn't particularly care ...more
Sep 24, 2012 rated it really liked it

The more I study the issue of schizophrenia, the more I realize what tremendous courage it takes for anyone to talk about living with it -- let alone a professor at a major university.

In this gripping, literate memoir, Elyn Saks talks about her lifelong struggle with paranoid schizophrenia, from the time she was a young woman to the present, working as a tenured law professor at the University of Southern California. Growing up in Miami, she was always a talented student. Then, as a teenager, he
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Elyn was an amazing individual, with schizophrenia, under the best possible circumstances. She acknowledges that her supportive upbringing, affluence, opportunity for psychoanalysis, extreme intelligence and sheer determination are valid factors contributing towards academic success, not being homeless or institutionalized indefinitely and having the ability to form friendships and meaningful relationships. While a struggle to incorporate the three indwelling entities (her as a doctor, her as th ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This seems to be the schizophrenia memoir, and it comes as no surprise that it’s written by a very accomplished, successful person: going public with an account of one’s psychosis and delusions could be career-ending for many people, but when you’re a tenured professor at a prestigious law school, with a stack of degrees and publications, you can basically do what you want. Still, it’s a gutsy thing to publish.

This is an account of the author’s life from childhood up to probably her 50s, though
A truly eye-opening book. I thought I had a basic understanding of what schizophrenia was, but Saks really proved me wrong. She describes her experiences eloquently and expresses both her feelings and delusions well, resulting in a powerful memoir that gives you a short glimpse into what it's like for her living with schizophrenia.

Her accomplishments are extraordinary, regardless of her diagnosis. I can only hope to be as successful as she in the academic world one day, as it takes a lot of amb
Lindsay Stoffers
Jan 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Unfortunately, schizophrenia as a health condition is often misunderstood. People tend to make assumptions based off of out dated notions of what mental illness is and is not and in turn feed into the stigma of mental health disorders. Elyn Saks tells her story with incredible honesty and vulnerability. In "The Center Cannot Hold" Dr. Saks shares a deeply personal account of her life. As a second year master's student, majoring in Mental Health Counseling, I am so grateful for her courage to sha ...more
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating story told by a schizophrenic woman who managed to graduate Yale Law and then become a tenured professor, all the while struggling against delusions and other symptoms. Not a poetic book but it felt very honest and it was a way to get a bit of a clue to what psychosis must feel like.
Carrie Poppy
Aug 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
A very compelling read, and does much to battle the stigma against thought disorders.

The book, written by a brilliant USC law professor with schizophrenia, is a real page turner, as she is locked up in institutions, chained to tables, and ignored when she’s genuinely dying from a brain hemorrhage. The whole story is harrowing til it’s not. Suddenly a bright future emerges and she is powerful and free. I loved following her. I was also impressed with the economy of the text. She never uses three
Modern Hermeneut
Oct 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
An eye-opening memoir. What it what it lacks in stylistic flare, it more than makes up for in bracing sincerity. The author pulls back the curtains on the subjective experience of schizophrenia.

This is an unflinching testament of what it FEELS like -- not just what it LOOKS like from the outside -- to be in the grip of psychosis. It's also an indictment of the draconian methods often used to "treat" psychotic patients.

Even readers who are well-versed in the literature of psychopathology will fin

Okay, let's get the not-so-great over with first. The writing isn't always great; it's sometimes a bit repetitive and the author's high-achieving academic history is mentioned a bit too often. And there was a bit near the end when I got a bit bored - I'm not really that interested in the details of anyone's wedding cake, to be honest.

But the good bits? They are fabulous. This is honest, insightful and raw. As someone with secondary personal (i.e. not me but about as close as otherwise possib
Maggie Heim
May 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book added new depth to my ability to think about mental illness. It gave a fullness to my understanding of word salad and psychosis. Getting a firsthand, experiential account of how restraints feel when having a breakdown is invaluable. I now think more critically about what it means to force medicate someone. I have a new humility when considering someone dependent on medication who is struggling with taking it. It's not fair for me to think of it as simple to take the medication and be b ...more
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book because it seemed interesting. I was halfway through it when I realized it was the life of a scholar I know! I knew that this scholar did mental health law, but I didn't connect until later. The book is an excellent perspective on mental health and the thesis (if there is one) is to stop stigmatizing the mentally ill. Saks is an excellent and honest writer. I learned a lot ...more
“Oh, they’re nice. Do you like spice? I ate it thrice. They’re all hurting me! They’re hurting me and I’m scared!” (p. 191)

Elyn Saks' The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness is an unusual mental illness memoir, of which there are many. Saks is clearly bright, capable, and competent – graduating from Vanderbilt, Oxford, and Yale Law School, teaching and working in administration at University of Southern California – and also frequently actively delusional and unable to function. At h
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Mental Health Boo...: May nonfiction- schizophrenia: The Center Cannot Hold 15 37 Sep 16, 2020 03:20PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness
  • An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
  • The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays
  • Brave Girl Eating: A Family's Struggle with Anorexia
  • Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
  • Mind Without a Home: A Memoir of Schizophrenia
  • Surviving Schizophrenia: A Manual for Families, Patients, and Providers
  • Mother Noise
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures
  • Building a Life Worth Living: A Memoir
  • Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life
  • Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness
  • Desperate Remedies: Psychiatry's Turbulent Quest to Cure Mental Illness
  • Bedlam: An Intimate Journey Into America's Mental Health Crisis
  • Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia
  • Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Troubled Children
  • Not So Abnormal Psychology: A Pragmatic View of Mental Illness
  • The Buddha and the Borderline: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Buddhism, and Online Dating
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Elyn R. Saks, training to be a psychoanalyst, specializes in mental health law, criminal law, and children and the law. Her recent research focused on ethical dimensions of psychiatric research and forced treatment of the mentally ill. She teaches Mental Health Law, Mental Health Law and the Criminal Justice System, and Advanced Family Law: The Rights and Interests of Children. She also teaches at ...more

News & Interviews

The winter holiday season tends to be a busy one in the romance aisle. To assist you in finding your next hot read to warm up a cold night,...
128 likes · 5 comments
“My good fortune is not that I've recovered from mental illness. I have not, nor will I ever. My good fortune lies in having found my life.” 45 likes
“If you are walking on a path thick with brambles and rocks, a path that abruptly twists and turns, it's easy to get lost, or tired, or discouraged. You might be tempted to give up entirely. But if a kind and patient person comes along and takes your hand, saying, "I see you're having a hard time- here, follow me, I'll help you find your way," the path becomes manageable, the journey less frightening.” 27 likes
More quotes…